If a Woman Isn’t Bruised and Bleeding, Will Her Rape Be Counted?

In late January, U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) sparked outrage when he introduced the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (H.R. 3), which sought to further restrict abortion funding for all women. But what also angered feminists was that, in drafting an exception to allow abortion funding for survivors of rape, the bill defined “real” rape exclusively as “forcible” rape. For sexual assaults that didn’t fit that narrow definition, funding for an abortion would be denied.

After a week of intense pressure, Rep. Smith dropped the term “forcible” from the controversial bill. Problem solved? Hardly.

In fact, the concept of “forcible rape” has long been used and is still being used to limit the reporting of rape at the federal level. Since 1929, the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report (UCR), which tallies all crimes reported to local law enforcement each year, has used this archaic definition of rape: “The carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.”

That counts some rapes, certainly. But what gets left out?

Plenty. The UCR’s definition excludes victims of nonconsensual sodomy and oral sex, and those raped with fingers, fists or objects. And all male victims, of course. Also, because the definition includes the word “forcibly,” police departments often interpret the rule (against UCR guidelines) as leaving out rapes of women with physical or mental disabilities and those who were unconscious or under the influence of drugs and alcohol (despite the fact that at least 22 percent of all rapes involve those substances or incapacitated victims—and some studies put the number as high as 77 percent). The assumption, strangely, is that those women weren’t “forced.”

The UCR definition, both in its wording and its effect on police practices, thus omits a large number of rapes—which then impacts the investigation and prosecution of rapists. Some studies have shown that 90 to 95 percent of rapes are committed by serial rapists. If those serial predators are not prosecuted, they’re free to rape again and again.

And that’s why a change in the definition of rape would lead to better law enforcement response and could thus reduce dramatically the incidence of rape. A modern definition would include sex of all kinds without consent. It would embrace victims regardless of sex, gender, age, disability, consciousness or level of intoxication. And it would encompass incest; rape with an object, finger or fist; and sodomy or oral copulation without consent.

Joanne Archambault, a sexual-assault-investigation expert and founder of the nonprofit End Violence Against Women International, insists that the UCR’s definition of rape sends a frightening message to society about what types of sexual assaults matter.

“The fact that it only tracks forced penile-vaginal rape says a lot,” she points out. “Are we saying all those other ones aren’t important? Of course they are.”

She adds that the UCR definition feeds into social stereotypes about who is a “real” rape victim, which have a huge impact on rape reporting. “When they’re first assaulted,” she says, “[rape survivors] aren’t thinking of law enforcement; they’re thinking of safety. They go to their friends, loved ones, family first.” If a rape survivor isn’t validated by her community, she’s less likely to report the crime.

It’s high time for a change. For rape survivors, a modern definition of rape at the federal level would acknowledge, once and for all, that rape is rape—and that the stories and experiences of all rape survivors count.

This is an excerpt from the cover story in the Spring issue of Ms. magazine. For the entire story, look for Ms. on your newsstands or join the Ms. community and have a copy of the magazine delivered to your door.

Comments on this piece? We want to hear them! Send to letterstotheeditor@msmagazine.com. To have your letter considered for publication, please include your city and state.

Want to help fight rape in your own community? Join the No More Excuses! campaign of the Feminist Majority Foundation and Ms. magazine and demand that the FBI change its outmoded definition of rape, that city police departments test every rape kit in their backlog and that cities make sure untested kits don’t accumulate again. Go to our online campaign headquarters where you’ll be directed to letters you can send to FBI director Robert Mueller and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. You can also order a local take-action package that includes a dramatic video about the rape-kit backlog by Lorraine Sheinberg and Susan Rubin and ideas for making a difference on this vital issue.

Comments

  1. NWOslave says:

    The fallacy of this article is inescapable to anyone giving any thought to what is being proposed.

    This article states…”Also, because the definition includes the word “forcibly,” police departments often interpret the rule (against UCR guidelines) as leaving out rapes of women with physical or mental disabilities and those who were unconscious or under the influence of drugs and alcohol (despite the fact that at least 22 percent of all rapes involve those substances or incapacitated victims—and some studies put the number as high as 77 percent). The assumption, strangely, is that those women weren’t “forced.”

    This states that under the influence of “alchohol” should now be considered rape. Being unconcious IS rape, under the influence is not. Since virtually everyone has at one time or another had a drink and I hazard a guess that the vast majority if not literally everyone has engaged in sex while having been drinking to varying degrees. Every man has now guilty of rape under this definition.

    This article further states…”And that’s why a change in the definition of rape would lead to better law enforcement response and could thus reduce dramatically the incidence of rape.”

    How can expanding the definition of “rape” to include “under the influence” possibly “reduce dramatically the incidence of rape” when the very definition of rape would include virtually every single man in this country. At least the “rapists” will be easy to indentify. We’ll just call them “men.”

    • just some person says:

      Actually, alcohol IS considered to be a date-rape drug. Might not be as effective as quickly as a roofie, but a person handing another person drink after drink after drink in order to get them to pass out so that they can be taken advantage of IS, in fact, raping them. The fact that many people don’t realize this is part of the reason a number of rapes go unreported.

  2. BeijaFlor says:

    I don’t know about your community, dear reader, but the state of Maryland considers it “second-degree rape”:

    if the victim is a mentally defective individual, a mentally incapacitated individual, or a physically helpless individual, and the person performing the act knows or reasonably should know that the victim is a mentally defective individual, a mentally incapacitated individual, or a physically helpless individual

    (Maryland Code, Criminal Law, § 3-304. Rape in the second degree)

    Drunk does count as “mentally incapacitated;” and in the eyes of the law, the man who has been drinking with “her” STILL “reasonably should know that the victim is …mentally incapacitated.”

    I recognize that the editors of Ms. Magazine are determined to extend the definition of “rape” to include all sexual acts performed, or should I say “committed,” by men; and to have common jurisprudence determine “the burden of guilt” to rest completely on the male. It’s already that way in divorce court.

  3. Barbara Mor says:

    It must be pointed out that according to the Uniform Crime Report’s definition of

    rape, the recent brutal assault on CBS journalist Lara Logan in Egypt’s Tahrir Square WAS NOT RAPE !! In that assault, everything BUT a penis was used — multiple fingers, objects, who knows what else, inserted in Logan’s vagina, rectum & mouth;

    her stripped body was carried around & violently manhandled by a sadistic crowd of men for 28 minutes. But yet, under this UCR definition, she was not raped.

    Hey: our MINDS are under assault by this definition, by a crazed mob of American rightwing politicans who are ‘intellectual brutalizers’ of our human female right to exist. If we think something as raw as Tahrir Square can’t happen here, well…

    check out what a mob of newly state-empowered Christian fundamentalist men did to the Alexandrian teacher/philosopher Hypatia circa 415ce, under the instigation of a notorious cleric. Nothing changes except the costumes, until the women of the world enact changes that can’t ever be reversed again. How about a change of patriarchal religions????

  4. Doesn’t the fact that they qualify the rape as “forcible” rape mean that, by default, there are rapes that are not forcibly committed (ie if the victim was drunk or otherwise incapacitated) ? When you look at the language people use, it’s amazing what they understand intuitively/subconsciously but refuse to admit consciously.

  5. Stephanie says:

    This makes me want to commit murder, I was raped when I was 13 years old and never reported it. Why? because there was no point, and no proof and I knew the police weren’t gonna do a damn thing!

  6. This article as well as the commenters haven’t seemed to addressed that “[w]hile abuse by strangers does happen, most abusers are family members or others close to the family.”
    http://www.helpguide.org/mental/child_abuse_physical_emotional_sexual_neglect.htm
    There are plenty of other sites telling you this same exact thing, over and over. So what we need to ask ourselves is, how can we get victims to feel they can report a rape, even if it was by their brother, father, uncle, husband, or close family friend? I believe this will be a difficult task because not many will report their loved ones, no matter how badly they have been hurt.

  7. I was raped just over three years ago now…and still have flashback and nightmares…

    …Thing is? I was super drunk at the time as occurred on the night before my birthday, I count it as the night before as happened at about 2am of Jan 9th but refer to it as the 8th, I did text my friends after and they made me phone the police. Now I was asked if could remember and I did, I recounted everything but was made to feel like I was the liar and that ‘Being drunk isnt an excuse’ Well ok sorry and youre telling me that I wont be believed in court? That cos I automatically went dead and played dead so he wouldnt hurt me any more? That I am not raped? Cos I dont have major bruises???

    I wasnt thinking of the damn police forensic stuff at the time, just more wanting to be alive the next day!! He did throttle me when he couldnt….erm y’know…. but cos I dont bruise easily? It wasnt until about 28hrs later that noticed a band of hand prints around my neck, so my mate took a pic and reported it….to be told ‘How can we be sure you didnt do that yourself?’

    Right so have been brave enough to actually report it? Now IM the one whos being asked about my mental health and being questioned about my truth because of lack of bruising?

    Plus side? My forensic stuff went onto the Interpol data base as I had said he was from a different country and had spoken his language during it happening, and helped to convict him in Norway, he got 5yrs for almost killing another lady…which am both glad and sad about, glad he finally got sent down but also sad that some other lady had to go through it to get him done.

    I may have lacked bruising to be considered Raped but I know what happened to me and drunk or not, it shouldnt have happened…

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